Although Africa’s air traffic is down by 89% and revenue loses on the continent are expected to reach US$6 billion this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has cautioned that these figures are likely to be revised downwards in the next forecast to be released later this month.
“These are the darkest days in aviation’s history. But, as leaders of this great industry I know that you will share with me continued confidence in the future.
Our customers want to fly. They desire the exploration that aviation enables. They need to do international business that aviation facilitates. And they long to reunite with family and loved ones,” said IATA’s CEO, Alexandre de Juniac when speaking at the 52nd annual general meeting of the African Airline’s Association.
Addressing the AGM virtually from IATA’s headquarters in Geneva, De Juniac continued that the global aviation industry will, no doubt, be changed by this crisis. However, he noted that eventually flying will return and airlines will be back in the skies.
“The resilience of our industry has been proven many times. We will rise again. We are the business of freedom. For Africa, that is the freedom to develop and thrive. And that is not something people on this continent will forget or lose their desire for,” De Juniac added.
During his address, the IATA head confirmed that the global aviation industry is in the middle of the biggest crisis it has ever faced.
Said de Juniac: “As leaders of Africa’s aviation industry, you know that first-hand. Airline revenues have collapsed. Fleets are grounded. In addition, you are taking extreme actions just to survive. We all support efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. It is our duty and we will prevail. But policymakers must know that this has come at a great cost to jobs, individual freedoms and entire economies.”
For aviation in Africa, the numbers since the start of the pandemic are staggering and the overall impact is much broader as a host of associated industries and sectors are affected. IATA’s figures show that some five million African livelihoods are at risk. IATA Economics also predicts that Africa’s aviation-supported Gross Domestic Product could fall by as much as US$37 billion or by 58%.
Furthermore, De Juniac reiterated IATA’s calls for governments to act fast to prevent a calamity, saying that two priorities need to be addressed.
The first priority is unblocking committed financial relief. “Airlines will go bust without it. Already four African carriers have ceased operations and two are in administration. Without financial relief, many others will follow,” De Juniac warned.
He noted that over US$31 billion in financial support has been pledged by African governments, international finance bodies and other institutions, including the African Development Bank, the African Union and the International Monetary Fund.
“Unfortunately, pledges do not pay the bills. In addition, little of this funding has materialised. Moreover, let me emphasize that, while we are calling for relief for aviation, this is an investment in the future of the continent. It will need financially viable airlines to support the economic recovery from Covid-19,” said De Juniac.
The second priority is to safely re-open borders using testing and without quarantines. While some 44 African countries have opened their borders to regional and international air travel, in 20 of these countries passengers are still subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, leaving De Juniac to question who would travel under such conditions.
“People have not lost their desire to travel. Border closures and travel restrictions make it effectively impossible. Systematic testing before departure provides a safe alternative to quarantine and a solution to stop the economic and social devastation being caused by Covid-19,” De Juniac stated.